Mariners Force Chris Sale To Throw Several Pitches, Lose

look out, cameraman!

Sure, Sunday afternoon the Seattle Mariners lost to the Chicago White Sox 4-2. Sure, Sunday afternoon the Seattle Mariners dropped the rubber match of a series and fell to eight games below .500. Sure, Sunday afternoon the Seattle Mariners failed to ride any carryover momentum from Saturday's twelve-inning marathon victory, if you believe that is something they could have done. But if nothing else, Sunday afternoon the Seattle Mariners forced Chris Sale to throw 119 pitches in his complete game. Chris Sale will now be unavailable for a number of days! Sunday morning, the White Sox couldn't have known for sure whether or not Sale could be used again shortly. Now they know that he cannot be used again shortly, due to fatigue, and it's all because of the Seattle Mariners. So we can say that the Mariners didn't accomplish nothing.

After their first 17 games, the Mariners had a team .616 OPS. Over their next 38 games, they posted a team .703 OPS. The American League average is a .729 OPS, but the American League average doesn't account for ballpark. For weeks, the Mariners were showing offensive improvement, and lately the Mariners have been a run-scoring machine. This carries with it certain side effects. In the recent past, when the Mariners were historically dreadful or just run-of-the-mill dreadful at the plate, low-scoring games were written off to the Mariners being bad. "Oh, the Mariners could make anyone look like a Cy Young winner," people said. And it was true. The Mariners could make anyone look like a Cy Young winner, and they very often did.

So people were hesitant to figuratively tip their figurative caps to the opposing pitcher or pitchers, because we never felt like the other guy had to be great to shut the Mariners down. The other guy just had to throw baseballs and let the Mariners do the work. It was not a challenging job, shutting down the Mariners, so shutting down the Mariners wasn't something worthy of praise.

Now, given what the Mariners have done of late, I'm comfortable saying this: Chris Sale threw a hell of a ballgame today. Chris Sale shut the Mariners down, in a small ballpark, and where in the past that would've been as remarkable as this reminder postcard from my dentist that's next to my laptop, the Mariners have hit well enough that Sale can be given some cap tips. Not that Chris Sale would be able to see us tipping our caps, but most of us aren't actually wearing caps.

Of course, Chris Sale faced a lineup with Chone Figgins batting second and Alex Liddi batting eighth, and he faced a lineup with three of the other guys batting left-handed. But let's think about this. The White Sox came in leading their division, with a strong run differential. The Mariners came in tied for last in their division, with an average run differential. The White Sox were at home, and the Mariners were on the road. The Mariners were starting Kevin Millwood, who has been pretty good, but who has hardly been exceptional. The White Sox were starting Sale, who has been outstanding in his rotation trial. He was just recently named May's American League Pitcher of the Month.

The Mariners only lost 4-2. The final out was also the would-be tying run. The Mariners didn't get blown out, and they lost in large part because of Sale, who went the distance and struck out eight. As ready as we've been to blame these sorts of games on the Mariners, I don't think this one was necessarily the Mariners' fault. Sale hasn't allowed more than three runs in any start this season. Two starts ago he threw seven scoreless frames. Last start he struck out 15 Rays. Last start he generated 26 swinging strikes, so today's 13 swinging strikes don't seem nearly so bad.

It's always impossible to determine exactly how much credit should be given to a pitcher, how much credit should be given to a defense, and how much blame should be heaped upon a lineup, in the smallest of pictures and the biggest of pictures, but without scientific analysis I will declare that Chris Sale was very good and the Mariners simply met the fate most teams would've met in their place. I realize this is something many people would declare without a second thought, but I'm somebody who has to think all of his thoughts through, except for that one about the reminder postcard from my dentist. I didn't think that through but I feel like it worked.

Outside of Sale, this game didn't offer much. By the middle innings, I found myself sufficiently disinterested that I was thinking about and researching other things. One of them was the Tower of Pélee. I'm not going to provide a link because you should look it up on your own and stare in amazement. Usually, I'll watch the game and occasionally glance at something else. As this one wore on, I was watching something else and occasionally glancing at the game. This wasn't a game to feel bad about missing, or a game to feel bad about turning off. There wasn't a lot of good that happened, and there wasn't a lot of good or bad to talk about. So when Miguel Olivo made the final out I didn't know what to say in the recap. There are baseball games that the Mariners win. There are baseball games that the Mariners lose, but during which young players do encouraging things. There are baseball games that the Mariners lose, but during which interesting things happen. This was a baseball game that the Mariners lost, and that's it. It'll blend in with so many of the other losses. It probably already has. Congratulations to Chris Sale for a job well done, and anti-congratulations to the Mariners for playing the baseball game equivalent of a cell phone waiting lot.

That thing I said above about there not being much to talk about - that's absolutely true. As much as I know some people look forward to the bullet-hole section of the recaps, I can't always force bullet holes that simply aren't there. Maybe it was my fault for not paying close enough attention, but I'm going to go ahead and blame the game for just not providing much material. It was the opposite of yesterday's game, which provided entirely too much material. I am going to insert one bullet hole that doesn't belong, to artificially increase the word count. See if you can spot it!

  • Sometimes Kevin Millwood runs into an inning in which he throws entirely too many pitches. He's always a guy who's around the fringes of the strike zone, and in some innings he'll spend too much time out of the strike zone. Today Kevin Millwood had a whole start of those innings.

    As with Hector Noesi on Saturday, there are elements of Millwood's start that look good in the numbers. The White Sox took 41 hacks against him, and 11 of them whiffed. For those of you who appreciate context, that's more whiffs than average. Additionally, the White Sox put 14 balls in play, and nine of them were grounders. For those of you who appreciate context, that's more grounders than average.

    But Millwood threw 95 pitches, and not enough of them were strikes. Four of them were balls on purpose, but not enough of the rest of them were strikes. He was removed after four innings, and he walked five guys while hitting another. Five of the first ten batters worked full counts. Millwood's always a guy who kind of labors - he's not one to coast - and today he couldn't stop laboring. He just kept on with his labor.

    I will say this, because I'm obligated to say this - Millwood walked Brent Lillibridge in a full count with the bases loaded in the second, and the 3-and-2 fastball easily could've been called a strike. If Millwood gets that pitch, he's through two scoreless, and, who knows. But it wasn't an obvious strike, and that one walk didn't define Millwood's outing. There were other walks, and a hit batter.

    A year ago, Kevin Millwood walked eight batters over nine starts. Watching him, I don't know how that ever happened. He doesn't put pitches in tea cups, as he demonstrated this afternoon. But he's been good enough that one clunker is acceptable, and as it happens, Millwood's groundball rate is now up to 51 percent. That's definitely his highest groundball rate since 2002, and probably the highest groundball rate of his career. Ichiro isn't the only old player on this team who can change.

  • As much as we've openly pleaded for reduced playing time for Miguel Olivo, it makes a lot of sense to get him in there against a left-handed pitcher, because Miguel Olivo has a career .789 OPS against left-handed pitchers. His splits are much worse in 2012, but I'm afraid to say you're an idiot if you catch yourself looking at individual player splits for 2012. Not a general idiot, but a baseball idiot, about this part of baseball. You might be very smart about other things! You probably aren't though, on average.

    In the top of the second, Olivo came up with a man on and got an 0-and-1 fastball from Sale. The fastball was about where Sale wanted it, toward the bottom of the zone, but Olivo extended his arms and made the kind of solid contact that's kept Olivo employed for so long. He blasted the pitch way out to center field, and Sale knew it off the bat:

    Olivohr1_medium

    The ball eventually landed in some hedges:

    Olivohr2_medium

    Sometimes people scoff at the remark that Miguel Olivo is arguably the strongest player on the Mariners, but this home run was supporting evidence. In that picture, the ball is the little white line below the fading "89", just above the second row of bushes. I've never been to this ballpark so I don't know if all of those bushes are part of a large maze in which Joe Crede has been trapped for three years, but if they are, I hope Olivo's ball didn't hit Joe Crede. On second thought, I hope it did, because remember this? Fuck you, Joe Crede, I hope you're trapped and unconscious.

  • The tower was first seen by Mr. Heilprin as simply a "needle" about Aug. 24, 1902; in May, 1903, it had grown until 5,200 feet above the sea; but on May 31 it lost 180 feet of its summit. It grew up again at a rate of from 20 to 30 feet a day, but from time to time lost further portions of its apex. Mr. Heilprin believes that the tower was "merely the ancient core of the volcano that had been forced from the position of rest in which solidification had left it." Its "burnt-out," "scraggy," and "slaggy" appearance makes him doubt that it was of recent growth. After reaching its maximum recorded height in May, 1903, the tower, despite frequent re-growths, began to disappear in July, 1903; by the middle of that month it had lost permanently 400 feet, and in August another 100 feet.

  • The White Sox wore throwback uniforms that were white and red. All they said on the front was "Sox". Things were so stupid in the past.

  • With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth, Alex Rios returned a hotshot grounder up the middle. It looked like it would get into center field to score two runs, but Kevin Millwood kicked it away to short. Surprised, Brendan Ryan lunged back to his right, barehanded the ball, and immediately made a strong, accurate, off-balance throw to first that nearly beat Rios to the bag. It didn't, so Rios had himself an RBI infield single, but just because Ryan didn't get Rios out doesn't mean Ryan didn't make an absolutely spectacular play. You guys and your results-based analysis. Ryan will get no credit for anything out of that play in the numbers, but Ryan did something few shortstops in the world could do.

  • During one of the commercial breaks there was an ad for Gold Bond powder. The main character and hero in the ad was named Jimmy Bond, which was a delightful coincidence. The Gold Bond slogan, proudly declared upon the story's conclusion: "This stuff works." I can't decide if that should be the slogan for nothing or everything. I'm guessing the guy responsible for the Gold Bond slogan isn't a poetry enthusiast.

  • Stephen Pryor is still new and still interesting. He worked for the second time in two days, throwing a scoreless fifth. He didn't get his fastball up into the triple digits, since he'll only get there with the benefit of adrenaline, but his heater averaged 96, and he used it to strike out both Tyler Flowers and Brent Lillibridge. We know that Pryor is going to throw 95-100 miles per hour. He also measures 6'4, so I wonder how much forward extension he gets, relative to the average. We're aware of Pryor's actual pitch speed. We can only speculate about Pryor's perceived pitch speed, but because of his height, it's probably even greater. Stephen Pryor is going to be an easy pitcher for us to like.

Hey, fantastic, the Mariners play the Angels tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Then they play the team with the best record in baseball. Then they play the team with the worst record in baseball! Looking forward to you, series after the series after this upcoming series!

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